Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail with support from Arborist
Saturday 18th April 2015 – SS Nomadic, Belfast
Every now and then Belfast is host to a different kind of gig. A gig where the artists, the music, the crowd and even the venue all align to create a unique atmosphere. After shows in Derry and Dublin, Saturday night saw the launch of a maritime mini-album named ‘Sea Legs’. It is the end result of a much anticipated collaboration between two opposites of the Northern Irish music scene, the minimalist electronic artist Ryan Vail and the gravelly folk singer Ciaran Lavery. Support on the night was to come from Belfast’s Mark McCambridge aka Arborist.
Tonight’s venue, the Nomadic, sadly no longer sea-faring, proved to be a huge contributor itself, to a night focussed on atmosphere. Even tonight’s colour scheme was carefully worked to reflect the blues and greens of the sea. Indeed it’s rare to talk about the setting for a gig, with venues largely a footnote on most occasions, but tonight, tied into the theme of Lavery and Vail’s ‘Sea Legs’ the venue was not going to pass unnoticed. Boarding the Nomadic, gig-goers were invited to tour the ship, drinks in hand, awaiting Arborist’s introduction.
With the audience settling, and following a short introduction from Quiet Arch‘s Lyndon Stephens, Arborist take to the stage. Immediately introducing first song ‘Ten Anchors’, which to McCambridge’s dismay is a murder ballad of the land based variety, Arborist seems an apt choice of support for the night. In the vein of Lavery, he is a songwriter in the purest sense. It’s a set filled with quiet folk, weaving tales and McCambridge admitting the venue had perhaps inspired a few more from him.
Arborist’s music is normally full of traditional instrumentation, and in the case of new single ‘Twisted Arrow’, intriguingly the vocals of a certain former Pixie, Kim Deal but tonight it is Mark McCambridge’s vocals and guitar. The self-depreciating McCambridge encourages the crowd to purchase the new single, if you don’t like the soft solo sound here you may still enjoy the single. He need not worry as there is nothing amiss live. McCambridge’s vocals and soft guitar combine with the venue to create an incredibly intimate atmosphere with the gentle, reverbed chords inviting the crowd to lean just a little bit closer.
When Ciaran Lavery & Ryan Vail take to the stage it is not with a bang, ambience and mood is the aim. A slowly building blanket of sound is pieced together by Vail, accented by delicate touches from Lavery’s acoustic guitar. The jolt of feedback when Lavery first takes to the microphone, soon laughed off by the Aghagallon native, is even sooner forgotten by the audience as ‘The Colour Blue’ takes hold. Lavery’s moving folk sound is given an extra dimension by the soundscaping of Vail, synths, piano and sea sounds, all impressively delivered in a live setting with a set-up that dwarfs Lavery and his guitar on stage.
Perhaps time to mention that other ingredient for a special show, the audience. Those gathered tonight, with a few musical talents in their own right represent the closeness of the Northern Irish music scene, exemplified of course tonight by the coming together of Lavery and Vail. It is a respectful, ‘listening’ crowd, fully engaged in tonight’s music and appreciated by both Arborist and the ‘Sea Legs’ duo.
‘Sea Legs’, itself a beautiful piece of work, is delivered record-perfect tonight. The criminally short album has increased resonance with the words of Lavery and Vail discussing a little of the album’s background, the spoken word contributions of Teknopeasant and James Patterson and even a bit of a monologue on the film ‘Babe’ in Lavery’s typical anecdotal fashion. Musically Lavery and Vail flow into each new track sublimely, and indeed watching Vail master his vast array of electronics at times becomes its own fascinating sideshow. There’s moving moments everywhere, the pulsing beat of ‘The Sea at Night’ dropping back to an acoustic rhythm before returning again or the glitchy backing of the hypnotic ‘Flow’.
A rather abrupt ending in the spoken word ‘Ceol Na Mara’ gives rise to a few question marks from the crowd but to everyone’s delight the duo return for one final tune, a pleasing rendition of SOAK’s ‘Sea Creatures’.
Collaborations of this sort show the musical talent on these shores and the ability of two distinct artists to combine to create music that transcends either’s respective genres. Choosing the Nomadic to host the launch only supports the notion that this is a special and unique release. One can only hope Ciaran Lavery and Ryan Vail choose to work together again.